One of the things I find most astounding about the Robocop franchise is that each progressive entry in the series seems to get worse than the others; after all, this is a premise that should be easy to do well if you’re able to grasp the intentions of the original film.
Another thing that really boggles my mind is that Robocop 2, probably the best thing after the first film but still not great, was the last film directed by Irvin Kershner, who directed The Empire Strikes Back.
The film follows Robocop (Peter Weller) less in this film than in the first, and instead seems to focus on the city of Detroit as a whole. In this film Omni Consumer Products (OCP) is in the midst of a scheme to bankrupt the city so that they can take over and implement a radical urban development plan.
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In order to do this they’ve underfunded the already thinly stretched police force, causing mass strikes, and plan to replace police with new Robocop 2 units. Whilst this is a decent continuation of the plans the company began in the first movie, and really hammers home the corrupt nature of giant capitalist organisations with too much power, where the film begins to fail is with the depiction of Robocop himself.
At the end of the first film Robocop was once again Alex Murphy, having fought to regain his humanity. He spoke and acted more human, and the last moments of the film saw him declaring that his name is ‘Murphy’. So when we see him and his partner Lewis (Nancy Allen) on the streets taking on the drug gangs that are taking over the city, it’s disappointing to see that writers Frank Miller and Walon Green seem to have hit a reset button on him, reverting him to the monotone cyborg from the first movie.
The two screenwriters clearly have a good sense of where to take the story of Detroit and OCP in this film, yet don’t really know what to do with Murphy. This is further compounded when they have him stalking his former wife, something that shows that Murphy is still alive inside the machine; yet they don’t allow this to show through anywhere else. I could understand if he reverted to the older Robocop after OCP mess with his systems later in the movie, but they seem to have brought this into play too soon.
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Sadly, it would seem that these weren’t the only issues with the film, with stars Peter Weller and Nancy Allen both speaking out years later about problems they had with the production. Allen reported that much of the heart and dark humour that the first film was liked for was taken out of the sequel’s script by Kershner, who she also claimed didn’t like her, and tried to make her working conditions difficult. Weller also reportedly felt that the film lacked a satisfying third act, and that simply having Robocop fight a giant robot at the end didn’t lead to satisfying conclusion; something many viewers would agree with.
Robocop 2 seems to be the beginning of a downward slope for the series, with no other part of the franchise managing to reach the heights of the original, despite another sequel, a reboot, two television series, and two animated shows.